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This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
(John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II, 1597)
Once, to the imperial Romans, England was merely a plot of darkness to be conquered and civilized. To the invading Vikings, England offered a land to be plundered and settled. The conquering Normans took England by the birthright claim of William the Conqueror. How then could a small western edge of the European continent grow into a demi-paradise on earth that would produce such mighty pens as Marie de France, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Malory, William Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, Aphra Behn, and many more? What people, what language and, most of all, what literature did shape England into a rich realm that Shakespeare rhapsodizes in Richard II?
Under the theme of “England: Its Literature, Language, People, Ideas,” this survey course purports to study and answer that pivotal question. Students will be introduced to major British writers, their works, and their language, as well as literary genres and techniques, of the Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Norman periods, Medieval and Renaissance eras, the Restoration to 1800 in English literary history.
Such studies are built on the premise that students will read, discuss, and write the assigned texts intelligently, analytically, and insightfully, so as to foster their enriched knowledge acquisition and its application. To this end, many intellectual inquiries are interwoven, including the concerns of religion, culture, economy, science, politics, gender, and rhetoric, that might have triggered our writers’ sense and sensibility. Students are expected to elevate their literary literacy through cognitive and aesthetic training and application, as well as to articulate a more complex and yet humanistic understanding of literary works, themselves, others, and the rest of the world, through not only vigorous academic activities but also by writing college-level essays.
The course’s hoped-for goal is students’ cultivation of a critical and creative mind and heart so as to realize that literature crystallizes the written essence of "the best which has been thought and said” in the world of British literature.
Prerequisite: English 1101 with a grade of "C" or better or consent of instructor.
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